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3 - History without Passion: National Historiography in the Age of Oubliance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2017

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Summary

J'en suis content, et d'autre part marry, d'ouyr rafreschir la memoire de ce que, pour l'honneur de ma patrie, de mon Roy, et des siens, je desireroy estre ensevely au plus profond du puys de l'oubliance.

In the article on the city Mâcon in his 1697 Dictionnaire historique et critique, Pierre Bayle devotes a long, convoluted remarque to the question of whether he should include material about the Wars of Religion in his work. He begins by paraphrasing the sixteenth-century edicts of pacification that urged the French to extinguish memories of the conflicts: “it would be desirable that the memory of all of those inhuman acts had been abolished in the first place, and that all the books that spoke about it had been thrown into the fire.” Those who hold that memories of the conflicts should have been erased and documents referring to them burned are certainly right when they warn that such reminders are “extremely liable to nurse an irreconcilable hate in people's minds.” Emphasizing his aversion to polemic, Bayle says that he would be perfectly happy if nobody ever remembered that kind of event, particularly if suppressing a painful past led to better conduct in the present; “but given that these things are amply recorded in a too-great number of works for the hope that affecting to say nothing about them in this one could do any good, I did not want to constrain myself.” In light of the extensive written record of this painful past, the efforts of any individual author to suppress it could only be a vain pretense; thus Bayle's dictionary includes extensive material about the wars.

Having acknowledged that the memory of the Wars of Religion was very much alive, thanks at least in part to the numerous books published on the subject, Bayle can only express surprise that:

les Francais de différente religion aient vécu après les édits dans une aussi grande fraternité que celle que nous avons vue, quoiqu'ils eussent éternellement entre les mains les histoires de nos guerres civiles, où l'on ne voit que saccagemens, que profanations, que massacres, qu'autels renversés, qu'assassinats, que parjures, que fureurs …

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Forgetting Differences
Tragedy, Historiography, and the French Wars of Religion
, pp. 63 - 103
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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